There's magic in this place . . .
This place was founded on a magical belief, settled in a magical building and continues to do magical work today.
This place that matters, this place that answered a call and continues daily to make a difference.
Founded in 1999 by a group of determined and tenacious patrons, the Delta Arts Alliance rallied in response to gaping financial cuts that left area schools without art education. The original organizers, "The Willing Souls" worked tirelessly to establish the organization's mission, principles that still lead this organization through its work and efforts. Delta Arts Alliance is driven by a mission to promote the arts and arts education by working closely with residents, schools, community organizations, businesses and faith-based organizations, thereby promoting positive change in the Mississippi Delta; and to meet the needs of children and families of Cleveland and the surrounding communities with access and availability to quality arts experiences.
The Delta Arts Alliance is committed to one singular, specific mission, in its most basic measure, to connect.
Every aspect of Delta Arts Alliance’s community work is focused on connecting, whether through its stalwart artist-in-residence program which provides arts education in the public schools, while connecting artist with employment opportunities; or its rapidly growing after-school program that has grown from one program and three classes to five diverse programs with 12 individual offerings coupled with its on-going First Saturday and summer workshops. All total, these sustained efforts and creative programmatic work connect arts education opportunities with over 6,000 children in one calendar year.
Additionally, the Delta Arts Alliance works diligently connecting artists with both exhibition opportunities, whether in its multi-level gallery space at 104 Court Street or through its partnerships with the Bologna Performing Arts Center and Bolivar County Library System, and professional development experiences through its Artist Survival Series, a four-part boot camp aimed at developing aspiring artists business acumen.
DAA continues its renovation and restoration of its space in downtown Cleveland, with the end goal of connecting the Delta to its history and bridging the gap to its future as a multi-purpose facility that the residents will be able to use and develop.
Renovations. Restorations. Arts Education. Artist Development. Exhibitions.
The work of the Delta Arts Alliance covers vast ground, but the connective fiber in its work remains this community and its people. More simply, YOU.
You allow us to connect more people, more communities and more lives.
The Ellis Theater opened to a packed house on Thursday, January 7, 1938, with two showings of “Vogues of 1938″. According to The Bolivar Commercial January 8, 1938:
“The new theatre, which has an unusually large auditorium for a town of this size, is substantially and attractively built, and is beautifully lighted within and without. We are informed that the projection and sound equipment have only two equals in the entire South, and the . . .
Over the next 40 plus years the Ellis was a place of entertainment for Cleveland and the surrounding area. Then sometime in the 70′s the owner built the Twin Cinema out on Highway 8 West and soon thereafter sold the Ellis to Rhodes Printing Company.
The new owner gutted the building and leveled the theater floor to make work space for his print shop, but made very few changes to the exterior of the building. Unfortunately for the building and its neighbors, very little maintenance and/or repair work was done during the ownership of the printing company and the condition of the property deteriorated gradually into a sad and run down condition.
In 2002 a small group of visionaries in Bolivar and Sunflower Counties began meeting with the idea of creating more opportunities for people of all ages, but particularly for young people, in the community to experience art. These meetings might be described as dreaming sessions or an effort to imagine all of the possibilities for creativity in the community. The meetings were spearheaded by Ruth Abide and Nan Sanders, local artists, Ruth being an art teacher as well. The group sought diversity and included artists, musicians, school teachers, business owners and volunteers from varying social and economic backgrounds. The vision became one to development an art programs for children as extensive as the city park commission does for sports, offering a variety of opportunities throughout the year.
The group focused on a two-fold goal in their plans: to begin programming for young children as soon as possible. Dr. Lenagene Waldrup developed ideas and began working with 17 children in a pilot program in 2004. The second goal was to locate or build a facility that would serve as a centerpiece for the Arts Alliance activity. Various locations and properties were discussed and it appeared for a while that an old warehouse might be donated to the organization. Much excitement developed around the idea and preliminary drawing was developed by architect, Mark Vaughn, and it was decided to name the building “The Artists’ Factory”. The Arts Alliance applied for a MS Arts Commission Grant which they received in March of 2003 to begin the work. However, as it often seems that when something is too good to be true, it turns out not to be true and that was the case here. The owner changed his mind and we were left with only drawings. So the search began again and the most obvious vacant building downtown with the old Grover Hotel. The group decided to ask the city for the building as they knew how very much everyone in the community wanted to see something good happen to the old hotel. The idea served two purposes – the group could promote art in addition to saving a wonderful old building in the community, a place where everyone would want to come.
After several months of conversation it seemed that the city had a purchaser for the hotel, but there was another building that everyone wanted to see saved – the Ellis Theater. The Delta Arts Alliance was thrilled with this unexpected turn of events and the property was transferred to the Alliance in December of 2003. The Arts Alliance worked with the Arts Commission to change the property for the use of the grant funds and from that point on the project began to develop slowly, very slowly. Committee members spent hours working with the architect planning the best use of the space. It seemed for a brief moment in time that the Ellis would be restored with the funds available (plus matching funds) and that volunteers would be able to concentrate on arts programming. However, there seemed to be one delay after another in plans and drawings, in meeting deadlines, in promises made but not fulfilled. Whatever could possibly slow down the process occurred including losing the instigator of the project to a wedding. Ruth Abide married and moved to North Carolina. In the face of many obstacles the group persevered, applied for another grant from the Arts Commission and a Community Heritage Grant from the Department of Archives & History. Matching contributions came from the closed Whistlestop Theater, Cleveland Junior Auxiliary, Crosstie Arts Council, and private donations. Finally, after two years the plans were ready and so were we. Then Hurricane Katrina hit the coast.
The impact of Katrina, in addition to the devastation on the coast and south Mississippi, was felt in our building project. In the short time span from August to January, the cost of building rose at least 50%. Large contractors in our area were concentrating on work along the coast. The end result was that Delta Arts received only one bid and it was nearly double estimates and expectations. So back to the drawing board again to divide the project into phases, the first would be the most visible, the front of the building, particularly the marquee. In the case of the Ellis, having been designated a Mississippi Landmark was the salvation ensuring appropriate restoration of the marquee. With such inflated costs the temptation to take short cuts is inevitable; however, in this case, patience, perseverance, and guidance from the Department of Archives & History saw the completion of Phase One through with an excellent result.
The Delta Arts Alliance is now focusing on the rehabilitation of the interior of the Ellis as an art gallery and multi-functional facility. Plans include a theater stage, dressing room, removable seating, small classrooms, office, storage, and a warming kitchen. To date the art gallery (Phase I) has been completed and hosted its first official art exhibit during the 41st annual Crosstie Arts and Jazz festival April 17th through May 15th, 2010. The mid portion of the building beneath the balcony (Phase II) includes office space for our partners, Junior Auxiliary of Cleveland and Crosstie Arts council, storage, restrooms and a catering kitchen were completed in September of 2010. Currently plans for Phase III are being finalized to create a multi-purpose auditorium/theater in the rear seventy-five feet of the building. Using grant funds from the MS Arts Commission and hopefully from Rural Development, Part I of Phase III, the stabilization of the rear wall and creation of a dirt-fill/geo-foam base for a concrete slab floor will be completed by the fall of 2012.
Just as an aside to this story of a preservation project, the Delta Arts programming has grown from a pilot program of 17 children in an after school class at one school in 2004 to serving over 5,000 children in 30 elementary schools in 5 counties in the fall of 2011. Clearly, the Delta Arts Alliance, Inc., is not only transforming the Ellis Theater, but is daily transforming lives in the Mississippi Delta.